the Horn Farm Paste Mob

retro listening #51-60

51. The Cure – Disintegration

I totally bought the hype about this album (which at this point in the story was still one of relatively few records I had been looking forward to prior to its release)– I was positive it was going to be the most depressing thing ever, in a way I found appealing but a little scary. I didn’t think there was anything inherently awesome about depression (if I recall correctly); I just felt like that was where I was at a lot of the time.

So this first song sounds more like the theme to Chariots Of Firethan you would expect from that description.

It’s very STATELY. Not abject at all. As is the second track (maybe a little less so). And the third. The words suggest an elegiac mood, not a triumphant one, but they aren’t really going out of their way to draw attention to the lyrics.

“Last Dance” is about “a woman now standing where once there was only a girl”. That doesn’t strike me as a tragedy. Wait, let me check… yeah, okay, Robert Smith was 30 when he made this. Not too old to call romantic partners “girls” as such, but way too old to talk as though “girls” are preferable to “women”. (So that’s a little creepy.)

Thinking about how young the band were back then is not particularly good for my mental health. They seemed (like all musicians) incredibly old and wise, but… well, maybe the album is just depressing me, contrary to current expectations.

This is not, even now, how I handle emotional agony. The calm widescreen “here we are at the end of the world and isn’t it pretty” moments all come at the end of a crisis for me; the album’s slide from there into grimmer and grimmer moods (but still always slow, expansive, overwhelming) is genuinely a downer.

Not really sure who this is for.

52. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

I saw “Down In It” on MTV and liked it. I was surprised to find that this album was more like Depeche Mode with synthesized gunshot noises than the sparse, beat-heavy record I was expecting. (The former is obviously a better fit with the music I already knew, but I remember being excited that I’d discovered a new type of music to like and sort of disappointed that it wasn’t true.)

Now that I’m very firmly *expecting* synthpop, the places where Reznor was breaking the mold stand out more obviously: the white noise bursts in “Sanctified”, for example, though those do alternate with 80s guitar so cheesy that it spoils any effect it might have had.

This is a SLOG. Partly because I already revisited this album a few years ago, when I stumbled on Purest Feeling, the album of demos that became Pretty Hate Machine. That was kinda revelatory. The demos are missing nearly all the most pointedly ‘dark’ aspects: no “Head Like A Hole”, “Sin” or “Something I Can Never Have”; a cheerier title; no “slice my finger off” lyrics in “Ringfinger” (whose lyrics then become pretty generic workin-hard-for-the-money-babe sentiment). So that was interesting, but I’ve already played this album several times this century when it wasn’t what I wanted to listen to as such.

53. The Primitives – Lovely

I was both thrilled and a little disappointed when “Crash”showed up in Band Hero– thrilled because I love the song, but disappointed because it was somehow always crucial to my context for it that although it was a hit, it was a hit from far away and a year or two before I was paying any attention to music. I don’t think I wanted them to be My Discovery, in that way people (still, tiresomely) accuse music geeks of wanting, but I did want them to be A Discovery, as opposed to a thing mostly heard by people who didn’t care.

But now I feel like I have these false memories of walking around Camden High Street as a collegiate Londoner in the mid-80s, listening to “Crash”. Man, those were the days. I bet I ate “chips” and wore bright colors too.

For real, though, this messes with my time perception. The Primitives were, as I think I mentioned when talking about Pure, sort of a major-label version of C86-era indiepop, a style I wouldn’t know how to explore for another few years. I don’t remember how well teenage-me thought it meshed with the piles of Oingo Boingo albums I was listening to, but now it’s an anachronism. And a welcome one…

54. Oingo Boingo – BOI-NGO

Presumably a keen observer would have realized that Danny Elfman was phoning it in (sick of being in a rock band?) after he named this album. Or, failing that, after he named a different album “Boingo”, without the hyphen, a few years later.

I wonder how much of a “mature” move this seemed like at the time. It has a very similar feel to Total Devo(released around the same time, also by a “novelty” band, also an album of new material almost-but-not-quite self-titled… hm…) in its comfortableness.

For example, how is Elfman’s spoken break in “New Generation”not eyeroll-fodder for me? Hmm. I guess inspirational-speaker-Elfman hasn’t gotten on my nerves at all in this retrospective, just enfant-terrible-Elfman, who is nowhere to be found.

I recall that “Not My Slave”was my favorite track back then, which I think might still be true, even though it’s sort of an emotional muddle– I’m not sure, for example, what its bittersweet tone is doing there, since the narrator is dismissive about his past life following other people’s scripts and enthusiastic about his future in a relationship between equals. Maybe it’s not even meant to be bittersweet? But no: “with sadness in my heart and joy in my mind”… dunno.

“Outrageous” would fit right in on The The’s Soul Mining, with its fundamental boredness only sort of dented by cherished beliefs about how “something big” is going to happen.

Maybe he’s still a troublemaker, but he’s become that archetypal sly ringleader inviting people into the secret circus, instead of a pitchman shouting at people about egresses.

I didn’t expect to have that much to say.

55. Ministry – The Land Of Rape And Honey

I used to love “Stigmata”. I don’t actually know why, not for sure. But I have a theory.

Well, that constantly looping riff with the rising note must have been part of it. I still like trancy music, when it doesn’t bore me. Listening to this album is at least *kind of* like not thinking about anything.

But I think I also liked being assaulted by the song. This wouldn’t have made sense to me in high school, so I’m sure I never thought of it– liking a song had to mean identifying with it or aligning yourself with it somehow, right? And yet listening to it now, it’s a little relaxing, but entirely because the song is this external thing hammering at me. So that’s interesting.

The rest of the album is unbelievably boring. The music is boring (some boring ambient, some boring metal), and the attitude is a very pre-internet flavor of “evil” where just having a recording of Aleister Crowley chanting somehow made you a badass. Sure, it’s easy to sneer now, ignoring the fact that I thought this was cool at the time. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually listen to it all that much, beyond “Stigmata”.

56. Ministry – The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste

I had these two albums dubbed onto one 90-minute tape. (I remember having to decide which songs to drop to make them fit.)

This one’s kind of better. The sample-fest “Thieves” actually attempts to make something new out of its pieces (and the phrase “power to the people” still, to this day, often makes me think “police officer!” / “kill! kill! kill!” / “you will not kill!”).

“Burning Inside” even has something approaching a melodic hook. Well, it has more than one note in the vocal melody, anyhow. Eventually.

No, actually, this is still pretty bad. Less half-assed than the previous one, at least.

57. Camper Van Beethoven – Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart

I know my interest in Ministry was fueled, at least in part, by a guy named Morton Taylor (name changed to protect the etc.) He was big and scary and probably smoked cigarettes. Friends of mine knew him from a BBS. I didn’t exactly like him, but him taking something seriously was a good reason for me to take it seriously, I guess?

At any rate, my freshman year I was also part of the “theater ensemble”, a non-performing group that did improv and movement exercises and a bunch of other cool things that I wish had continued after its organizers– two girls, one a junior and one a senior– graduated. Unlike with Taylor, I was very veryclear on the fact that I wanted to be as much like them as possible. They were manifestly awesome. (And that group they started probably was responsible for a larger fraction of the confidence I made it through high school with than I realized.)

So one of them was also on the staff of one of the school’s newspapers and, in advance of Camper Van Beethoven coming to play a show in Madison, she wrote a glowing review that mentioned how the new album was pretty good but “She Divines Water”from their previous album was totally going to make her see God if they played it at the concert so hopefully they would.

I remember being on the fence about exploring CVB further. That article made the decision easier.

Musically there isn’t a ton to revisit here, since I’ve listened to this one regularly ever since. And yet I still don’t know what “come sit down next to your man, let him cough in your ear” means. It seems dirty.

Drug references made things seem cool to me, even though I was completely repulsed by friends of mine taking drugs. A little mysterious.

I do remember an attempt– in retrospect I must have seemed totally crazy even by lovelorn 14-year-old standards– to declare my affections to a friend of mine by singing a song from this album that seemed germane based on, like, one of the lines. Just thinking about that makes me feel severely awkward and ashamed.

58. The Damned – Machine Gun Etiquette

Maybe it’s just the thin production, but for some reason this is making me think of the Kinks.

Plenty of stupid to go around here. “These Hands” is a generic ‘killer clown’ concept, which admittedly doesn’t drag on. “Anti-Pope”seems slyer, criticizing churchgoers on the grounds that “I should know — I used to go there myself”. I mean, either it’s playing dumb about Christianity’s omnipresence in order to interrogate its cultural hegemony, or it’s actually just dumb. Good song, though, and one I’d forgotten.

Why are any of these songs five minutes long, though? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

Thirty minutes later: Please stop jamming.

59. The Sisters Of Mercy – Floodland

“Dominion/Mother Russia” always seemed to me like it must have some story behind it– “Mother Russia” is too fleshed-out to just be a coda, but on the other hand, you couldn’t make a separate song out of it without courting the objection that these two songs are kind of the same.

Although there’s “Flood I” and “Flood II”. Don’t remember how similar those are; we’ll see.

The line from my early Ministry fandom to being a Shriekback completist only a few years later goes straight through this album, I think. Not to mention that I eventually discovered early Frank Tovey.

Wasn’t I just complaining about long songs? Because I am *just fine* with “This Corrosion”being 10 minutes long, I think. I’m writing this at like 6:24 in, though.

There’s also a song called “Never Land (A Fragment)” that is indeed a song fragment. Seems to be a fair amount of process being exposed here. I have faint memories of feeling like Andrew Eldritch must be the gothest dude in the world in person, always wearing black and probably saying opaque things. But I don’t think this music ever presented (for me) an illusion that it was just a raw expression of how he felt about anything. No presumption that the “I” in his songs is him. It’s very obviously a show being put on for my entertainment.

Maybe all I’m saying is that I never heard any emotion in his voice. Nor do now.

60. Wire – Document And Eyewitness

I realized a minute ago that I did know when I got this: I remember buying it while out on a shopping trip with a middle-school friend who I mostly lost touch with in high school. On vinyl, no less! So anyway, must have been freshman year. I got the CD later, but I think my listens must have all been on LP, since I am, right now, confused by the CD running order, which (sensibly!) puts the relatively musical Notre Dame Hall tracks first, followed by the Electric Ballroom performance.

That latter half is what I remember from this. I was super-excited at how many titles on the sleeve did not appear on Wire’s other albums. All new material! To my dismay, though, a lot of them seemed either like improvised noise, or audio documentation of some visual art taking place onstage. The sleeve described a lot of the latter: “Vocalist attacks gas stove”; “Vocalist accompanied and lit by illuminated goose”; “Vocalist eats 2 loaves and then blank scrolls are unrolled”.

My long-distance paramour from camp asked me, sometime that fall, what my favorite number was. I hated things which I thought of as superstition, and that was the only framework I could make any sense of “favorite number” in. I wanted to try it on, though, so I said, “I guess it’s 5/10″, since that was the name of a Wire song. “Isn’t that just 1/2?” she said. Well, er, I guess? I didn’t know you could have a favorite number but still endorse the workings of actual mathematics.

Now that it’s been so very long since I first heard this, and the vaults of Wire material from this era are presumably empty, I can appreciate a few tracks (especially “Relationship” and “Revealing Trade Secrets”) as Wire songs that were tragically discarded when the band broke up. It’s nice to have them. And the 9-minute “And Then… / Coda” is probably a better space-out than anything on those first three studio albums. But the sense of betrayal remains.


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